But being the anti-Trump party won’t be enough. If Biden wants to shape the political narrative in congressional Democrats’ favor, he will have to do more to tell the country the story of his administration.
Telling the story of a presidency is part of what leaders do. When there is immense legislative output, as we have now seen during the Biden administration, presidents have worked hard to connect the dots for voters in order to drive home how new laws will make a positive difference in their lives. This can also be a branding exercise, as shown by President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson was looking for a way explain his goals for the country. As he embarked on one of the most ambitious expansions of government since the New Deal, Johnson understood that the language he used would be important. He enlisted the help of Princeton history professor Eric Goldman and speechwriter Richard Goodwin, who helped him conceive of and coin the phrase “Great Society.”
Through a “Great Society,” Johnson offered a vision of how the federal government could help every individual become more self-sufficient and independent, ultimately obtaining the tools that were needed to prosper in the growing economy. As LBJ said at the University of Michigan in 1964, the Great Society “rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But this is just the beginning. The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talent. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness … The Great Society is not a safe harbor, a resting place, a final objective, a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed.” In other words, his policies would help an already prosperous nation do better and to bring everyone into the fold.
Other presidents have relied on slogans to convey their stories. President Harry Truman had his “Fair Deal” and, of course, Trump sold his agenda around “Making America Great Again.” Legislative leaders have used this too, such as when Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 by promising a “Contract with America.”
These slogans give Americans a concise way to understand what these politicians stand for — and their repeatability helps amplify any political victories won.
Telling this story and offering Americans a simple way to understand what he is doing and what his party aspires to do after the midterms would be enormously helpful as Democrats hit the campaign trail in coming weeks. Encapsulating his vision in clear and concise terms could make the difference for Biden and the Democrats in what promises to be a tight midterm election. Warning about the dangers of a radicalized Republican Party is a powerful message, but so too is offering a path forward for a better America.